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his most recent book. but if you would like to see along perversion of robert merry talking about his book, you can go to, type in the search robert merry, and you can once the full program. >> next, in an interview recorded at the university of pennsylvania in philadelphia, stories about her experiences serving on the united states commission set up by president ivan not -- eisenhower. this is about half an hour.
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>> well, on your screen now on book tv is a well-known face for c-span yours. that is mary frances berry, a professor at the university of pennsylvania, also the author of several books. at the university of pennsylvania today to talk to her about this book. the nets is commission on civil rights and the continuing struggle for freedom in america. mary frances berry, when did the u.s. civil rights commission began and why? >> is started in 1957. president eisenhower had had a lot of discussions with the secretary of state about the way the united states was seen around the world because of a lot of the racism that was going on and people here about and read about. the fact that this seemed to be a lot of episodes that kept happening and whether it was launching or some kind of discrimination that was taking
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place in the country so that the idea was eisenhower said that he was going to ask congress to set up a civil-rights commission which would put the facts on top of the table. i am told by one of the people who was at the meeting that he sent the table and said another going to put the facts on top of the table. and commissions, as we know, who do policy sometimes set up because their is a tough problem and people don't want to do anything about it. this set up a commission to make a report, and it goes away. this commission was supposed to put the facts on top of the table. its future would depend on what it found out, how aggressive it was, and what the public thought about what they're doing. >> initially set up as a relatively temporary commission. >> right. temporary in to deal with waste and came the year before the barack crisis. all kinds of ferment going on in the country. eisenhower -- defuse in part of
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the crisis and present a better image of the country to the world and if on the way they could recommend some solutions to what that would be great. >> who made up the first commission? >> the first commission, the idea was to put people on there who would be respected, especially the chairman, somebody who people would think would be objective. but did chairman, the president of michigan state university over. he was named the president. they had one black member, again and will consist. assistant secretary of labor. they thought that he was a sort of moderate person. i read all the white house files, by the way. did not to serve on the commission. that's a and a historian, i got all the files from all presidents kamal the white house's and read all that stuff so i could see what they were saying inside about what they're doing. the one lone black guy who was an adviser in the eisenhower
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white house who mows the was there just to sort of tell the names of people that they could apply to something that would not get in trouble police said, this wilkens, will get you into trouble. name him. the rest of the folks on there, professors. then and from notre dame, an important figure. it had imported people on it to start out with. >> when did you serve as chair of the civil rights commission? >> i came to the sole rights commission in 1980 after having served in the carter of ministration. after having been chancellor at the university of colorado at boulder. people say i was the first woman to be head of a research, major research university. in any case, i came. i had big fights with reagan because even though i was just a commissioner, i along with one of my latino women who was the only other minority on the
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commission, we would whenever the commission tried to do something that was terrible, reagan appointed some people. we had a big fight with him. but i was on there. i went through all of those fights. finally it was clinton who made me the chair of the commission. >> president carter appointed you. >> carter appointed me when i left his education, running education. yet in the department of education and i went back to teaching at the appointed me to the commission. >> at what point to become the the u.s. civil rights commission will become a permanent agency? >> after the first year when the reports that they did -- with the commission did was instead of sitting down and saying, okay. we are here as a safety valve and don't really -- they did some hearings. major power that the commission has, and a point this out in the book. to me it is the most important thing about the commission.
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does what it is supposed to do it will go out and listen to people that nobody else will listen to. problems, civil rights problems that people had that they could not get anyone to pay attention, not just local people but the federal government. it would write letters, do all kinds. no one would pay any attention. the sole rights commission decided that first year it would go out and listen to these people and see what they had to say. they had the power to subpoena anyone. eisenhower said, the reason why i want to get it passed by congress instead of issuing an executive order is because by attorney general tells me that is the only way they can subpoena anybody. given what the problems are, some people may not want to come to testify. so the commission most important power of subpoena. they went and looked all over the place to see what the problems or. they made recommendations that were controversial but seemed to make sense. so after they had been there for
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a while it was clear they need to be reauthorize to needed to be continued to work on these issues. then of course bell rock crisis and those civil-rights movement started to heat up. it was clear that there was a need. in the commission spent the next few years figuring out what to recommend to the government's to bring to fruition what these people were protesting about in the streets. the civil rights movement. what they did is to make recommendations about what legislation would look like that might do something to help alleviate some of these problems >> professor, just to go back, were all the members originally appointed by president eisenhower? >> the members were appointed by him and confirmed by the senate. in those days you had to be confirmed by the senate. it was bipartisan. some of the people were democrats and some were republicans. >> now, going back to mr. wilkins also, any relation
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to academic roger wilkins of today? >> no, he is related. another whole family. my dear friend, roger, is not related to that family. later a professor at harvard his name was also wilkens. the chicago illinois republican okens as opposed to the democrats. >> how did the commission changed? >> i called something about being with friends, among friends. the commissioners were all saying to themselves, these are good, solid democrats or liberals. they're going to do everything we say that needs to be done. now is the time to get it all done. they did not know the behind-the-scenes body kennedy, i call him bad bobby, not a good body became later.
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they were all making fun of the commission. these people keep recommending all the stuff and it think we will do this. it was in that there were hostile to civil rights. the problem was that the committees in congress were controlled by democrats to or from the south and who were racist. and mississippi and someone, mcclellan, they were the people to control the judiciary committee and everything that happened, and the control judicial appointments. so instead of the friendly reception that they thought they would get they did not listen to be the administration -- and it would take their recommendations and try to incorporate them later on in legislation was the sole rights movement forced into, but until the civil rights movement forced them to it would just simply be polite. we can't do any of this. so they found out and they try to cooperate with the a
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ministration. the pendant that was put into the law when there were set up which made them an independent voice cannot sell rights, it was really important. they should not try to be friendly with some particular administration. their job was to be a watchdog. a watchdog over with the demonstration was doing. and they learned that. and then when kennedy was assassinated and johnson was uprose civil-rights because of that the civil rights act of '64 and '65, actually enacted into law. >> of a point did you become aware in your life of the civil rights commission? >> i became aware of them when i was in the graduate program university. asked if i work on a project.
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>> sixty's, 70's. >> yes. i used some of the reports because the reports they did were very good reports. some of the historical research that i did. so i was very much aware of them. finally by the time the commission as to me since i've do legal and constitutional history file would read something of a history of abortion rights for them and how that all played out and what the history had been all the way back to england and so on. i did a report for them. >> what is your history? >> i'm from tennessee. nash fell. my family and their relatives are all still there. i went to a pro high-school. i went to howard university. then i went to the university of michigan. first the history department where i got a ph.d. then i went to law school.
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in those days you had to get both degrees, but you could not get them at the same time. now you can't. now had to do one, then i had to do the other. >> did you come north to graduate school on purpose? >> i came to howard. yes. i came on purpose. i went to segregated schools and national. negros as it were called in those days. that made sense. when i went to michigan i was one of the first to this who was black who was in the ph.d. program because when i got there the head of graduate studies said to me he was surprised to see me. i found out what that meant. he told me, there was one time they came. he did not graduate. so i was sent there by my professors at howard who wanted me to work with a particular
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professor there. >> who are your parents? >> my parents were poor folk. my father left a surly. one of those lost, stolen, or straight man. my mother raised this cause been sometime in an orphanage when i was an infant. that's one of my earliest memories. a very extended family in which my generation was the first generation to ever go to college. my mother graduated from the eighth grade. al of a lot smarter than i am. if she could have she wanted to go as cool. very much one of us to get educated. >> when do you remember being interested in public policy in service and government? following the news.
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>> well, when i started during legal history at michigan and start reading all legal history stuff, i did a dissertation, the draft that was enacted during the civil war, the first national draft act, and i became -- and from reading the documents i read and all the materials, generated by government agencies i get very concerned about how power is exercised. and whether their is a voice for people who are not in power, how did the powerless get somebody to listen to them? that's what i love so much about the commission. i was insisting on a listening to people, you know, when you go to the san antonio texas and there was a hearing. the commission had held on latinos that i've read about in the book. all these latinos, no one has
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ever listened to them. kick the school because he spoke spanish. there were told it was a dirty language. all these people or awful. runover by carbon in 1951. 1961. the commission listen to and because he was at war veteran. this sheriff stop the car and shot him, for no reason. later came out he shot him because he was black and is one to shoot somebody. the guy was paralyzed. he was a veteran. get the dea wanted not to give a pension because he must have been creating trouble, the was the sheriff would not have shot and. therefore it was his fault and he should not get a pension. he guessed every way to help them. finally as the civil rights commission.
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find out what was going on. they ended up being able to get in the pension. and i met his family. i told him the story. they said they knew he was paralyzed, of course. they never told them how this happens to him. there were like, oh, my goodness. and so i think that when i was interested in, what i am still interested is there has to be some way to have a voice for people with they can go somewhere. >> have there been efforts over the years, particularly by congress. >> ronald reagan tried to do that. he came into office, and it was all is amazing to me, reagan has become one of our most beloved presidents. people forget some of the stuff that happened. and he wanted to change the direction of civil-rights.
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he wanted to make sure that the civil rights laws that were passed or not enforce the way they were supposed to be enforced. he decided that he would -- the first thing, the commission was standing up and what stocking administrations. so they said okay. we will chase the members. that we get into a big fight because when they got to me and get ready to change, i sued them and i sued them. i won the lawsuit that the course of the commission was supposed to be a watchdog. i used to say, what start in a lap dog. so that in changing the election of the commission, and even though later we were able to get some traction push the door, growing out of the 2000 election, the voters election,
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the commission has never been the same since that time. so reagan in the sense succeeded in making in the body that could not listen to ordinary people or that would not listen to ordinary people. not independent. they kept trying. the commissioners felt like they should just endorse whatever the administration felt. if you're going to do that, people appointed political appointees all over government his job is to do that. your job is to monitor them. right now all those other suppression activity that took place all across the country in the whole big debate about it, the civil rights commission should have been at the center of that debate based on its history, its experience with floating and voting rights suppression and making recommendations. it was nowhere to be seen.
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and so what it has done is subverted the mission that was supposed to have. what it needs to have happen is be converted by the congress into another kind of body of something. they ought to get rid of it. that's my opinion. >> what is the current makeup? >> is still bipartisan. >> five members. >> it has eight members. >> the commission has eight members. four and four. no more than four. will people decided to do is play with that designation. they haven't changed their party. there a point in any way. but it has become -- the structure of it now, because of what reagan did to it that would be hard to get a majority to do anything constructive. the people who are appointed, unlike in the old days back in
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57 and 60 and so on, not supposed to be people who are objective, independent minded from this is not a job and who are widely respected all across the country and you will be aggressive and not see themselves as catering to their own political party. i have no idea. that shows a much is doing. i have no idea what it's doing. and not seen anything, but it is done. at least since i left. >> what to leave? >> i left because my term was going to be up with bush reelected i didn't see any sense in sticking around for a while for that. i was not planning to stay in that did not want him to appoint me. i'm sure he wouldn't have appointed me.
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>> the president is to appoint. and then the congress. >> the result of what president reagan and his proposals and is trying to fire us an hour when the lawsuit did, congress passed a compromise as they do on these things. and the compromise explained to the commission from six to eight no more than four and one party. the congress gets to appoint four. the president is to appoint four and there is no confirmation. east to be you had to be confirmed by the senate. i was confirmed by the senate to be there for the public had a chance. now they don't. is just considered to be patronage. >> did you have any relationship with ronald reagan with the republican senator at the time he served jesse helms? >> used to send me birthday
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cards. he and strom thurmond. ronald reagan the kennedy center , the president's box, a member of congress invited me. he seemed like a very affable, personable guy the most amusing thing to me about ronald reagan is that he told the press when he fired me and the press asked him why. a reporter came back and told me. i fired her because she serves of my pleasure and she is not giving me any pleasure. of the laughter that one. >> the server and pleasure. that was almost as bad as the guy in the bush administration and the justice department. supposedly said he liked his coffee like mary frances berry, black and better.
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i guess reagan's was a little better. i served at his pleasure. but i'm not giving him very much pleasure. that was brought into evidence. massoud. reagan fired me. the courses, among other things, the president doesn't fire people who are in an independent agency or what starting him. they're not giving you pleasure. or not supposed to be giving him pleasure. we're supposed to be monitoring what he does. i found to be an affable person. a nice guy to have to deal with. >> professor barry, what -- of what are you most proud of your service? >> well, i thought you were going to ask me what i was most proud of. what i am most proud of. a lot of things. key anti-apartheid movement and in the south africa. as far as the commission is concerned i am very proud of the hearings we did in florida of
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the 2000 election because we heard again from people that nobody would listen to and we found out that there were thousands of people who were registered to vote, legal voters. they just would not let them vote. when he went down to vote with his family the tilden that he was a convicted felon and he could not vote. he said, well, that's not true. the only time i went to the court house when i was up there testifying. of the right here in the same precinct last time. why are you telling me? and in front of this family and all of his friends and neighbors prodigious said, you have to get out of here. you're a felon. it turns out he wasn't peer review was not convicted of anything. they had the impression on voters. anybody who had a name that was similar to somebody else's, they
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simply said that there were felons and that there were thousands of people who work in that position. you can't in voter suppression just by doing that. we get the help america vote act passed, but this time around the commission did follow-up on what was done before, and we still have instances of voter suppression in this country. >> what do you do here? >> i teach history of american law. >> i teach a course to anybody who wants to take a in the history of american law from the english to after reconstruction. and then i teach a seminar which i call the history of law and social change. it's about topics that i am interested in. it's one of those things where i do what i am interested.
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i pick topics that have some currency, but have history. to show how this jury and ask the question. does history have any place in the making of law and policy? the answer is it does. what is the place that has and should it have it? the semester we are doing issues like elegy bt, education and the whole debate over education reform. whether it works. students read material from all sides of these issues. we will be discussing. >> do you miss washington? >> i miss the little bit of power you have when you're in government office. no matter how small the agency and no matter how minuscule the power, when people have problems you can sometimes help them. as far as the commission is concerned, i miss being able to bring people who no one heard from and no one would listen to
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and to listen to what they have to say. >> this is your third, fourth book? >> no. i have written many more books than that. jeez. i have written probably nine written books. >> is there another one coming? >> i'm working on one right now. >> on? >> the topic is what does it mean to -- its on voter fraud. i found documents down in louisiana where they seem to have had a persistent record of voter fraud. i was given some records from the voter fraud that goes down. i have been reading them. so this book will be about, if you really want to see voter suppression, voter suppression.
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>> when can we expect? >> probably in the next year. >> mary frances berry, when you hear the term post racial what do you think? >> i think somebody is an idiot. there was a big debate about this when obama was selected by the democrats. the idea is that we are beyond noticing or thinking about issues of race. i guess that's what that means. and obviously we aren't. i mean, there are too many things that happen. even the presence of obama and the white house himself and his family raises questions for some people so that while we may be on the way sunday to be post racial, i think it's fair to say that we are not now.
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>> to you have a relationship? >> no. >> justice for all. mary frances berry. her most recent book. professor at the university of pennsylvania. former chairwoman and u.s. commission on civil rights. here is a history of the u.s. commission on civil rights. mary frances berry on book tv on c-span2. >> you're watching c-span2 with politics and public affairs weekdays featuring live coverage of the u.s. senate. weeknights want to keep public policy events. every weekend though it is nonfiction authors and books on book tv. you can see past programs and get our schedules at our website. you can join in the conversation on social media sites. tell us what you think about our programming this weekend. you can tweet us. @booktv. comment on our facebook call or send us an e-mail. book tv, nonfiction books every

Book TV
CSPAN January 21, 2013 3:00pm-3:30pm EST

Mary Frances Berry Education. (2012) 'And Justice for All.'

TOPIC FREQUENCY Mary Frances Berry 6, U.s. 5, Pennsylvania 4, Michigan 4, Us 4, Ronald Reagan 3, Eisenhower 3, America 2, Obama 2, Wilkens 2, Chicago Illinois 1, England 1, Bobby 1, Tennessee 1, Howard University 1, United 1, United States 1, Ministration 1, Colorado 1, Elegy Bt 1
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